Another Architecture

by Mitch McEwen

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    Stop Wasting Our Time

    Mitch McEwen
    Jun 24, '20 9:22 PM EST

    This post is in some ways inspired by the bold move that artist Shantell Martin made a few weeks ago to expose the crass ways that marketing entities sought to turn Blackness into a quick response, a cheap way to be 'relevant.'   

    There are not many of us Black folks in architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning.  We are busy.  Especially now.

    Early in June I got a request from Architects Newspaper to do an interview for a feature in their print paper.  After 3 weeks of back and forth, in which I even encouraged the editor to take another stab at putting questions together, Architects Newspaper now says the content will appear in bits and pieces as web content.  I would not have wasted my time.  

    Here below, in advance, is the interview.  Stop wasting our time. Get serious or go back to what you are already doing-- ie ignoring us and, you know, objectively re-framing Confederate monuments.

    What tactics do you use when engaging with someone who says that systemic racism is something architects don’t need to discuss? 


    What tactics or strategies have helped you succeed more generally in your own work?

    This is such an odd question in this context. Is my work even successful?  I largely feel like I’m just getting started.  Am I an appointed member of prestigious institutions?  Yes. How did I get there? I started in prestigious institutions, like most of the people in similar positions or senior to me. The system reproduces itself.  Every now and then there are people like my parents and grandparents who abandon almost everything they know, risk almost everything, and devote all their resources to making an entry for the next generation.  And then all we have to do is show up and consistently be one of the best at whatever the thing is, amongst this sliver of people already pre-appointed.  

    What outcomes of your own work are you most proud of?


    What outcomes would you like to see in the future?


    Traditional architecture educations often don’t discuss systemic racism or how to address it. What skills should architects focus on to confront systemic racism in their work?

    I am hesitating here on this word traditional.  Degree studies in architecture at Howard University, for example, date back to 1911.  That’s decades before the architecture program launched at Princeton University.  But traditional here presumes Princeton much more than Howard.  Both because traditional denotes some kind of value and because traditional implicitly means not only white majority, but more specifically a white majority that aligns itself with a certain politics and territories.  In popular culture you can track this very easily with hashtags like #tradlife (shout-out to dream hampton for introducing me to that shudder-inducing body of social media).  

    There are other traditions, even in this country.  There is a phrase I have been grappling with between disciplines in the humanities for sometime-- “the Black radical tradition.”   This phrase falls apart when you bring it into architecture -- it deflates into nothing or it explodes the terms of the discipline.  I, of course, prefer the latter, but I’ve been forcing myself to grapple with that deflation, that erasure, that void in the histories or practices, as well. 

    Anti-Black violence isn't new, but it does seem as though consciousness of it is now rising among non-Black people, and that toleration of it among non-Black people is perhaps declining. Do you think that after the current protests across the country have abated, there will be more sustained support for architectural projects combating anti-Black racism in the built environment?

    I have no idea what you are talking about (among non-Black people).  Maybe we are at different faculty meetings, on different reviews, and get different mass emails.   


    What other practices, projects, or practitioners directly confronting systemic racism do you admire?

    I do not even know what directly confronting systemic racism means.  Does a roof directly confront the sky? Am I confrontational?  


    Are there any mentors or networks you have turned to for guidance as you have developed your professional practice?

    Not really. Every few years I have made a connection with some older person I really admire -- Vito Acconci, Ben Patterson-- and then they die, and I realize I have only had 3 or 4 real conversations with them. At the same time, being a Black architect is a network unto itself. Look up the numbers. Also, my friends are amazing and much braver than me.  I learn a lot from my friends.    

    Are you working on anything now that you’d like to highlight? [If a project is still confidential, but you’d like to share for future coverage, please let me know!]

    I’m in this group exhibit at MoMA curated by Mabel Wilson and Sean Anderson called Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America.    

    How is the building occupation toolkit going?

    It’s going. 

    Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

    Please hire Black people.  Not the star Black people who are already nationally recognized.  Hire Black people who get to be as mediocre as anyone else around you. 


    Also - I must say it is odd to not have a single question about the police or state violence when the country is grappling with militarized police forces and curfews and state-sanctioned street executions.  What would the question/s be?  I will not do your journalism for you, but let me just add-- you need to stop assuming that this is about those Black people out there and not these Black people here. You need to stop assuming that being in architecture means being outside of the issues.  You need to stop assuming that the capacity to do what you do comes from having the experiences that you do and precludes other experiences.   You need to stop assuming that because you cannot imagine having certain experiences that means that those experiences must be equally inaccessible to anyone in your profession.  Stop professionalizing your own distance, your own safety, the narrowness of your own experiences.  Stop mapping those onto the discipline as if they are the discipline.



    • b3tadine[sutures]

      "Does a roof directly confront the sky? Am I confrontational?"

      Jun 25, 20 6:46 am  · 
      4  · 

      I can't tell if i'm relieved or disappointed that architecture "journalists" are just as lazy and feckless when it comes to reporting on racism as they are on everything else.

      Send them a pre-packaged press release from a banal corporate firm (no doubt run by old white dudes) with photos and pull-quotes and it'll be on the front page of Arch Paper a few days later, but ask them to dig into systemic racism, or take a complex look at regional modernism, vernacular architecture, or anything not flavor of the month and this is what happens. 

      Really the only thing they had going for them is the occasional op-ed by William Menking, but he's dead now.

      Jun 26, 20 9:41 am  · 
      3  · 

      My head hurt just reading those questions and the responses were more than appropriate.  Especially - Stop wasting our time!

      Journalism is failing this country and watching it translate into our profession is disappointing...Besides click-bait eye candy, architectural journalism doesn't need to move as fast as society nor employ the same social media attention grabbing garbage.  Sample suggestion: A simple 10-20 page piece on Howard University's history in architecture, just coverage would be more than appropriate.  Prior to this post above I knew nothing about Howard's program and presumably never would have, right?   (I know archinect may have covered this and various websites, but the Architects Newspaper sits in offices, on desks, opened up occasionally, browsed randomly, architects still like paper, big difference then the 160 character reading of internet postings).

      Jun 26, 20 10:56 am  · 
      2  · 

      I'm interested in your thoughts on "-- it deflates into nothing or it explodes the terms of the discipline".

      Personally I am completely biased to your thinking and you introduced me to Sylvia Wynter via a post somewhere (you absolutely have Modern Western Philosophy down), so in a way you'd be doing my thinking for me although completely embodied differently (some AI researchers don't think the mind's emodiement matters...I look and behave nearly exactly like Joe Rogan).

      What has always vexed me or made me think "politics" in architecture is a waste of time is your statement, specifically - your work positition in the sentence "deflation".

      Archinect has produced or allowed the creation of many "political" architects who found a place on the web quickly or in journalism but not practice. Top of my head - Cameron Sinclair, Geoff Manaugh, Jill Fehrenbacher (more environmental)...who were regular posters at the time I was introduced to Archinect by a fellow architect who worked full time for Vito (I interviewed once as well as I had done work for an artist/architect)...Its a small world and the importance Archinect I think lies in this position to flesh out this question "open sourced". ...

      point is - why does radical and politics deflate so quickly in architecture beyond quick media, why does radical and politics in architecture just fizzle or seem even "irrelevant" once entering the sphere of practice? Look forward to your posts, any posts in general.

      Jun 27, 20 8:27 am  · 

      sorry, edit...specifically - your posititioning of the word in your sentence - "deflated".

      Jun 27, 20 8:34 am  · 

      "Sample suggestion: A simple 10-20 page piece on Howard University's history in architecture, just coverage would be more than appropriate. " This is exactly why coverage needs to be better. Why not the legacy of the Cassell family Legacy? Why not Sharon Sutton? Or why not Hampton before Howard? Point being- just looking at the history of one design program in and HBCU won't suffice.

      Jul 2, 20 2:10 pm  · 
      1  · 

      bruh, you left out the context of the full thought, a paragraph (German thing) in English a full thought is only a sentence (simpletons) - Prior to this post above by Mitch I knew nothing about Howard's program and presumably never would have, right?

      fun fact, I enrolled in "Intro to Asian Art" first semester because it was the only class that ensured I had no classes Friday. Drinking beer is important. We had to Read "What is History" by Carr and I learned about Rene Descartes. Thought they were a chick (a bird in Ireland, a woman in PC englisch), come to find out Rene is a French dude. So I learned later, only dead philosophers understand me- or I understand them, not sure what it is...Marc and Mitch - we're all part of a body of work, a piece of literature, and I'd like more sentences by you!!!

      (I'm working on a building construction to englisch translation lingo jam thing, but if you have a project - I'm bored)...

      I be into AI lately, experience is important, embodiment is also important...I'm like really bored (with 40 active jobs at our usual 150 a year S office size) but you understand I'm bored. Shoot me something, seriously, ask the Green Head Paul for my contact (I've drifted into serious delirium and emailed he and the B3ta - they have my contact, like who quotes Easy-E and 4chan, takes serious medication - or beer) , whatever you need man and woman or HUMAN. Like to point out - The interesting thing is Paul (the Archinect) got into print at some point (he's my generation, we still thing print is cool) and now the question is, should print still matter. Yes it should,

      I think that that coffee table top book should be a new Architecture and not one obsessed with principals and styles, but one of histories of architects. Marc lists a few, let's put that on a coffee table.

      I know in the world of architecture my "written" "behavior", seriously (hu)man, it's just text, seems crazy, but remember my heroes in literature are: Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound...I'm bored. Bored is another way of saying, dude(tte) I'm not normal, but I'd like to help, give me something (hu)man to do.

      Jim Morrison's Arrest History

      Jul 3, 20 1:35 am  · 


      Jul 3, 20 9:47 am  · 
      James Bragg

      The majority of these questions sound like they are coming straight from a book of employment interview questions, not from what's supposed to be "the most authoritative voice on architecture and design in the United States".

      Was the person who sent these loaded questions even a journalist?

      Jun 27, 20 4:42 am  · 
      1  · 

      Dirty secret of architecture journalism - there aren't any architecture journalists, just a bunch of editors (many part-time) who will pay $0.15 - $0.50 / word for articles like this, so the end up being written by whomever has the time and inclination to do so, but certainly not any dedicated writers.

      Jun 29, 20 9:29 am  · 
      3  · 

      The fact is that architectural "journalism" is really precarious freelance writing. Many of its practitioners cannot afford to rock the boat. It's a fanzine. Many of them do not have the background to do it anyway. Look at their credentials. And look at the current reckoning in food writing:

      "I also fully recognize Eater spent years centering a white upper middle
      class point of view. We centered whiteness. We centered wealth. We
      centered men. We tokenized chefs and cuisines. I don’t believe that I
      had a co-worker who wasn’t white during my first few years at Eater. We didn’t pay interns for years, which only allowed a certain class of
      individual through the door. I myself benefitted from a racist system,
      in terms of my education, opportunities, and ability to operate in
      various spaces of privilege."

      There is no equivalent accounting happening in architecture. What would you change to make the profession better? Ban PR puff pieces from privileged deans and firm heads? Many firms have FT PR depts that feed the architectural press stories. Stop accepting them? Make rules that you need to do your own research? Start looking for different kind of stories? The food press is reeling over the closure of the James Beard-award winning restaurant/media food darling Fat Rice.

      Literally hundreds spoke out about the toxic culture after the owner piously asserted his virtue on social media. They have guts and I am afraid that most architects are not as brave as Mitch McEwen to call out BS, racism and pigeonholing when they encounter it. How about following up on me too accusations? That would be one place to start...

      Jun 30, 20 3:02 am  · 
      5  · 

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Posts are sporadic. Topics span architecture, urban design, planning, and tangents from these. I sometimes include excerpts of academic articles.

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